Thursday, 26 July 2018

Any demo tool will do - Mercantour Madness!!

Dear friends 

Thank you all for your friendship and support for all this time.

We have not got to the position of knocking this shabby old ship into shape, without a lot of hard work and the invaluable help of great friends, Peter and Luc.

Much remains to be done on the outside – once we have tamed the rampancy of grass (no, not that sort of grass) and weeds created by the weird weather – which has meant that while you chaps, in the UK, have been basking in freaking hot – we’ve had freaking hot and violent storms!!

We emerge, bloodied but unbowed, with lots of ideas which will shortly be revealed in a newsletter*.

The Mercantour has had its just rewards, in a recent article in the Great Outdoors  magazine.

Keeping fresh…………we try to!!!!

Liz and Mel

 Latest review by lovely B and B owners and pro drummer veggies!!

Hi Guys, it’s been a terrific experience, much appreciate the exceptional care and effort in such a fabulous location making this a truly great package, our very best to you, Steve and Janet

*’ We have – of course -- complied with the Data Protection Act so our sends are restricted to the quality few!!

Sort of it!!!

Monday, 13 November 2017

The joy of walking without purpose - on the French Riviera!

The best of all worlds IS to be had here in the Alpes-Maritimes - we are, of course, delighted to be tucked away just North of Nice in the Mercantour National Park.  

However with a strict renovation timetable allowing us to be ready for guests over the festive season, we haven't been too far afield!

We were however tempted by some culture on the coast,  and the chance to escape for the day.  Getting on the €1.50 bus, albeit at 07.15, is an instant step into no-responsibility'ville - no concerns over bad driving, parking on the coast......your fate rests with the usually not too!, manic driver who will deposit you at the "seaside"....

We can't guarantee this beautiful dancer from the Alonzo King Ballet company - but lots of other excitement awaits!!

Ah to wander without purpose and gaze, and window shop....nothing bought aside from some great coffee - local coffee roasting - yum!!

Our new Nice Museum Pass  - available to residents of the Metropole (with ID and a proof of address) - allowed us back into the Musee des Beaux Arts after a gap of some 10 years - a gorgeous building and much lovely art including one of our favourites, which will shortly be gracing our kitchen wall!!

Thanks to winter opening - only from 11-6! - we did walk back and forth from central Nice several times,  just taking our time and enjoying the buzz for the Nice marathon which took place on November 5 2017.

Lunch - at the always generous Le Socrate - just off the main shopping street - Jean Medecin - a Lebanese feast at its best - and great value - even on a Saturday - they do offer an astonishingly good value lunch platter for c €12 from Monday to Friday.

Another recent recommendation has been for the Portuguese restaurant - Peixes orientated as you would imagine!!

The Opera in Nice remains quaint, a hop from the flower market, and some of the most pretentious/expensive restaurants in Nice.  It reminds me of being in the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds - let's hope that they don't knock it down and create a modern monstrosity.

Mahler's 6th - not everyone's choice for a light couple of hours but amazingly complex and "listenable"!! - the Philharmonic has a new musical director - a Mr Rath,
and talented he was too in achieving success with this tricky piece. 

We were magic'd back to our Mercantour lair with a kind friend who had made the effort to do the return trip - after a short sojourn in Ma Nolan's Irish pub in Old Nice.

Yes - there is everything down here!! - and now we have SNOW!! - and accommodation, still available, for the Christmas week here in Berthemont les Bains.

Planning a long weekend in February for snow shoeing - not yet on line!!

Walking and adventure holidays in the Mercantour - and Provence, plus Gran Paradiso in Italy.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Gastronomic tour in Piedmont and Liguria

After a great trip doing a circuit of Gran Paradiso this year.............a touring week round some of the wonderful options in Piedmont and Liguria on our way back home to the Mercantour.

Sharing here - by request - not to play the role of "know it alls" but to share some of the fun we had, for future travellers.

Turin drop off - leaving our guests at Turin airport we were delighted to, once again, be welcomed by Natalina and Gianni in Mazze - Casa Moretto.  The B&B is just about 40 minutes from the airport - pick ups can be arranged - and is comfortable, great breakfast PLUS a sparkling pool!!  Good eating can be found at Calu in Caluso just up the road - or if you don't want to drive, the local bar does good cheap pasta, or the aptly named "Big Piggy Pig" platter - just smile and dive in the door.

Linger in the Langhe - such a wonderful area, imagine a miniature Tuscany perhaps, the cascina sant eufemia - like returning home - a fun mix of speaking different languages, and scoffing garlic rich bagna cauda - thanks Chiara! You would have to be tired of life not to admire the splendours of Alba, Asti, Barolo......never mind the trough!!  The Vin Cafe in Alba, recommended, and the quaint (feels like being in a greek taverna) Osteria dei Catari in Monforte d'Alba...being some of this year's highlights.  Thanks to Lindsay and Helen for introducing us to, the name at least, of the Agriturismo Iride, where you can stay or just pop in for lunch with Isaia, a young and creative chef, with bags of potential.

Ye and Ne - Tempted by the Guardian's feature and a veggie tasting menu - yippee!,  we headed off to Ne, the charms of Castagnola64 - with Lu and Leo - although I did think Mel was really going to let rip as we edged up a narrow single track road in the minibus!, and the promise of La Brinca.  No hollow promise here - a wonderful, heritage rich, hearty lunch with wine matching - thanks so much to all the family.  We admired the capacity* of our fellow diners - and then slowly slowly walked the 2kms up the hill.

For things to eyeball - the back country is very pretty, but I am always reminded that I do not care for the coastal strip - neither in France, nor in Italy.  For sure there is wonderful architecture and stacks of history, but all crammed into a narrow band of land - over populated with road and rail links, and now blighted with cattle truck cruise ships. Portofino? - for long a "wish to see" - no chance to get near it!!

Back now to well cared for, four legged friends.....and getting into the final assault on the pesky house.

If you need to escape for the festive season - we are here!!


* Even Mr Sanders would have struggled - believe me!!
Accentless - I'm afraid!!
Image - Gran Paradiso refuge

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Summer mini break in Provence

It was great to escape to the west for a couple of days before the catering onslaught of eight hungry mountain leaders last week!

We were tempted to Chateauvallon near to Toulon to see Alonzo King ballet - Chateauvallon is a small outdoor amphitheatre in a lovely - if difficult to find! - area above Toulon.

Their programme is already available into 2016 - best to book early - OR - if you can't get tickets on line straight away - buy a loyalty card for popular tickets and pay the same price for the card and your discounted tickets - it's great value!!!!

Back to finding the venue - my own fault entirely but I had the location in my head - and was wrong!  It was quite fun - it a bit bizarre - finding ourselves in Toulon housing estates asking where the ballet was!!

Once night falls, you are given the major treat of seeing the lights of Toulon harbour twinkling below you and having a centrally heated seat - afficiandos bring cushions! but I was so captivated I didn't even notice the hardness of the stone!!  The ballet was magic - no suprise there then!!

There wasn't much chance of grabbing anything to eat on the way back to our chambre d'hote - okay it was midnight - but a bite of something would have been very welcome.

There's not a huge amount of accommodation to the North West of Toulon - crossing Toulon was not recommended as a bright option, but we stayed in a small, friendly place in Sollies, not far from Cuers and our culinary adventure at Le Verger des Freres Kouros - where the son of the lovely Christine of the Grand Chalet  completed some of his cheffie training - now wowing them with his pastries in Melbourne!

The early morning swims were much appreciated - thanks Gina and Jacques!!!!

The resto had immediately gained brownie points in their willingness to provide a veggie menu - and is astonishingly good value with a lunchtime menu for €22.  Wines about €30 a bottle.  The outside dining area is very lovely - shame the motorway is just nearby but the racket of the cicadas, and fellow guests yapping, soon covers the traffic noise.

We were well tended by one of the brothers, with more than just a passing resemblance to a certain Rowan Atkinson and a young lad waiter who was a bit bemused by my "er sorry but I don't want ham"!!!!  Mel took the €45 menu which was excellent........very high quality food at a bargain price.

Thanks so much to the guys for posing for this photograph in the kitchen (which is absolutely SPOTLESS!)............for Charles Lemai........

In the evening - we were hardly peckish - but wished to escape the high decibel apero session of our car rally enthusiast fellow guests and fell upon a very good pizza place - the Firenze - where you can choose either small, medium and large size pizzas (read "more than enough", "huge" and "vast" into that) - wood fired oven, long established family business.........nice!!!

The area was recently described as "moche" but the upside of that "moche'ness" is good value accommodation and food, and not an ex-pat in sight - we didn't hear another English voice all weekend.

Useful information

Les chambres de Gina
Le verger des Kouros
Firenze - 0494487070 -  45 avenue de la Republique - La Farlede - closed on Wednesdays and Sunday lunchtime


Thursday, 11 June 2015

Nature AND Art in the Mercantour

A very talented local photographer, Mathieu Vernerey – who has already produced a stunning book called “Les Alpes Océanes” – is creating a summer first, for the pleasure of walkers, by offering an itinerant exhibition of his photographs around four refuges in the Mercantour. 

The exhibition will start on June 13 and continue until September 24 with Mathieu’s lovely shots being visible as follows - 

Refuge - Valmasque : June                                                                               
Refuge - de Nice : July
Refuge - Madone de Fenestre : August
Refuge - la Cougourde : September       

Launch events at 14.00, 14.00, 15.00 and 14.00, respectively, on the first day of opening.

The exhibition is dedicated to Hervé Gourdel – a fellow Mercantour enthusiast who recently lost his life.  

Furthermore entries to a concurrent competition based on Mercantour refuges can also be enjoyed.

Spare a thought for the volunteers who will be transporting the 30 or so images between the refuges!

The refuges are easily accessible in day walks and of course overnight stays can be arranged on the Nice French Alpine Club site,  for the more adventurous.

Alternatively if you are quick, you might be able to stay with local accommodation and holiday provider – spacebetween – who are based in Berthemont les Bains in the Vésubie.

Please support this great effort initiative to enhance your visit to the wonderful Mercantour National Park.

If you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact Liz Lord or Mel Jones of spacebetween – they’ve lived in the area for 12 years so know their onions!

Photo credit  - Mathieu Vernerey - of course!!

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Wolves under fire in the Alpes-Maritimes

The wolf polemic continues here in the Mercantour!!

For sure on the plus side it was great news that our local wolf park has accepted three male wolves to accompany (and procreate with, one hopes) the three young female wolves.   Two of the ladies - pictured above.

The down side - and surprising - given that the winter here has been so mild, is that there have been several wolf attacks in the area, very close to villages, over the past few weeks.

The first was in Venanson where six or so of a friend's young goats had been killed; the second in Roquebilliere where the wolves had the temerity to kill two dozen sheep, in the very close proximity of the house of our local mayor.

The third strike was further south near to Pelasque, topped off with a couple of deer carcasses being found in Saint Martin Vesubie.

This had lead to much uproar from local farmers - who are fortunately (?) re-imbursed for kill losses among their beasts, and the extremists who are now suggesting that wolf cubs should be sought out and killed in their lairs.

Articles below for french readers!!!

Wolf kills 
Wolf killed by hunter

Come to see for yourself - with us spacebetween - open doors now!!!!!

Photo - Alpha wolf park 

Friday, 31 October 2014

Adventures in Sicily

Anti pasti for one in Sicily - only 3 x 2 foot!!  

Thanks to Massimo of ScicliB&B for the use of this photo!!!

Desperately in need of a break at the end of a successful season 2014  (with thanks to all our great guests for their support over the Mercantour walking holiday season) ..........we take ourselves off to Sicily - our loins girded for a long session on Trenitalia - and the romance (?) of a private compartment overnight.........we sleep like dogs on a clattery old train, dubious rolling stock - trying to remember the joys of the process of travelling!

They really do put the train on the ferry on the short trip over the Messina Straits, which is a welcome break from the rattling, and our first "arancino" of the week....and are successfully re-gurgitated into Palermo central where we are spoilt rotten with kindness by Manuela and Manilo at the lovely Via Delle Bicicletta - the bikes make their appearance the following morning, as we stumble out to have a look at the eclectic Palermo old town - having feasted on lovely pastries and coffee.

Rather loathe to take ourselves off to pick up a hire car - as it seemed as if we hadn't really done justice to Palermo, we headed off into the thrash of Italian driving and the Madonie Park and Gangi (where you can pick up a house for a €  if you are quick!)....where the Villa Raino is an oasis of calm (note that the B&B is before Gangi to the west of the town - NOT where Google maps would take you!!!) - while the inviting pool was perhaps a bit chilly looking we have a "bring it on" supper - astringent wine - great to cut through the olive oil - listen to the trill of birds and sleep like logs!!!  Hey logs and dogs.....but sleep - it was good...........and Etna was clearly visible in the morning - as it is - a mighty hulk of nearly 3000m - around the island.  The first snow brought the slopes of the volcano into sharper relief by the end of the week.

Rather like the Mercantour here in France - it seems as if few tourists want to walk in the pretty Madonie hills (we DO need to walk however if we are offered 5K calories of delicious "bounty" a day!) - and the tourist office aghast that we would even contemplate such a mad venture.....

En route to Scicli - we pass by the Villa Romana de Casale which, aside from the shrieking Italian guides with cruise ship clients - was absolutely astonishing and worth the trip to Sicily in itself.

In Scicli, we throw ourselves on the mercy of Nino (Italian but German speaking too!) and his chestnut roasting friends who offer to take us to the Scicli B&B behind a fast moving disabilty scooter! YES!! Fun to be in a studio in the old town where we can eat wonderful tomatoes and plain rice for a couple of nights!!!

Massimo - and he knows who he is - is a cute teddy bear of a host - so keen to get over the splendour of his home town - and perhaps disappointed that we haven't even seen Montalbano on the box. A wealth of splendid churches in the village - a shame that the nearby coastline is a desert of ghastly - but we do manage a nice lunch in Pozzallo.  Ragusa and Modica not visited!

The old town of Syracusa was a treat before we headed off with much anticipation towards Taormina - where perhaps a Saturday evening - not the best time to visit - indeed a beautiful location but much better during the Grand Tour era of the twentieth century - the twenty first has left the town rather  tawdry and expensive.

However we are lucky to be staying outside the town in Lettojanni where we are well tended by Brita at the Casale Praia and, what is more, an amazing meal at the Le Pietre Restaurant in Gallodoro - where we were truly astounded by the 10 (yes 10) plates of anti pasti - having to draw a line at about 70% of the way through the meal - and then a bill of €35 for us both!!!

A drive over the hills on the following day was fun and then a wander around Cefalu provided a diversion (but do look look look at parking restrictions in Sicily's tourist towns as they are hot on parking tickets - we know!).  A shame that the churches are not always open for visitors to appreciate the wealth of history.

After a hassle rich delivery of the hire car and walk back to town, we were delighted to see Manuela and Manilo again and then enjoy a cafe style Indian snack that evening...!!

Bubbling chaos (rather Indian!)  in Palermo on the morning of our departure - but the chance to visit the magnificent cathedral - even if we miss out on the Norman splendour!

Thoughts for the wary!

Read - The Middle Sea - John Julius Norwich - to get in the swing of things
Transport - Fly there!!
Visit - historic sites - first thing in the morning or at lunchtime - check opening times for churches etc
Eat - go steady - there is always more to come
Stay - lots of good value accommodation - check out the location to avoid being in an off season backwater, overlooking a road or train line or half finished buildings
Parking - check out all the restrictions in popular towns
Travel - roads are interesting! - don't plan to thrash through the miles

Enjoy - Sicily has a huge amount to offer!  

SPACEBETWEEN -  we don't offer client trips to Sicily but we have contacts there now if anyone is interested!